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THE LITTLEST RHINO

The smallest of the rhino species, the Sumatran Rhino now faces extinction. The use of its horns and other body parts in traditional Chinese medicine creates a demand that greedy poachers are eager to fill. The despoiling of its rain forest home by rapid human development and industry is an added threat. Thus, numbers of these rhinos have declined so sharply that only a handful of the animals remain.

At Sungai Dusun, the Malaysian government has established the Sumatran Rhinoceros
Conservation Center to help scientists save this remarkable creature. Dr. Zainal Zahari Zainuddin is recognized as the authority on Sumatran rhinos. He leads research at the facility for the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. After years of dedicated study, Dr Zainal has established a well-defined management protocol, which is now a daily routine. This protocol has stabilized the captive animals survival prospects and includes a well-balanced diet with supplementation; de-worming; showering; weighing; and hygiene.

Besides establishing the conservation center, the wildlife department also endeavors to protect the rhinos in the wild, with enforcement patrols conducted in high-risk areas. Any disturbance to its natural habitat by human interference, may force an animal out into more exposed areas such as easily accessible logging forests or oil palm plantations, where they are defenseless against poachers. So, patrollers pay serious attention to reports of displaced rhinos. Great efforts are made for these ones to be located and translocated to the Conservation center. One translocation case is unique. In the case of Rimah, Dr Zainal discovered that she happened to be pregnant when captured. Her calf is born in Melaka zoo and cared for by Dr Zainal and the keepers. Over 10 years later, Minah has matured and is ready to take her place in the breeding program.

 
So far the captive breeding program has failed to produce results. Moreover, the problem of the male rhino’s aggression has led to injuries in the females that require extensive care. To reduce such aggressive attacks, Dr. Zainal develops a new approach which helps to identify a male’s preference and the female’s readiness, before they are introduced together.

A new natural enclosure, incorporating ten-acres of the rhino’s natural habitat, has helped researchers perfect their tracking techniques in the wild by enabling them to observe the rhino's behavior and the tell-tale signs it leaves behind in the forest. The rhino’s main trail in particular is vital to identify when trying to trap a wild rhino. Another activity of the rhino, observed in this natural enclosure is the building of mud wallows to cool down and protect the skin from biting flies. This has been so successful that a larger enclosure, which incorporates 100 acres of the forest, is planned.

In the field, the Orang Asli native peoples are enlisted to help. In fact, they report a displaced rhino in the Kota Tinggi region in the south of the Peninsula. The department sends in three teams to search for the lost rhino by the rivers and logging trails in the area. By the end of the week, there’s still no sign of the rhino. The search must be abandoned.

At Sungai Dusun, Dr Zainal is making progress with a new cytology test that promises to increase chances of conception and reduce aggressive behavior. He flies to Borneo to demonstrate the procedure to Dr Senthill who cares for three rhinos there. Back at Sungai Dusun again Minah and Arah are ready for introduction into the natural enclosure. When introduced at the right time, the rhinos mating proves to be surprisingly tender. Dr Zainal is optimistic about the breeding program, but if future generations are to enjoy these magnificent creatures, the trade in rhinoceros horn must be stopped; reproducing populations cultivated and a safe habitat secured.